More than a year into his first term in office, Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) believes his administration has brought a renewed sense of energy and purpose to Town Hall.
Wehrheim took over the reins from former Supervisor Patrick Vecchio (R) — a man who once held the title of New York’s longest active serving town supervisor after 40 years in office — in January 2018. The move came after Wehrheim narrowly beat Vecchio in a party primary that deeply divided Republicans in the township, before securing the office with 57 percent of the vote over two challengers.
TBR News Media sat down with Wehrheim in an exclusive interview to review his performance on 2017 campaign promises and the status of the township.
“I came in, kept the same people here, and made them understand what my initiatives were and how I operate.”
— Ed Wehrheim
“I would give myself an A,” Wehrheim said. “I’ve gotten out to the Smithtown community and business community on what we are doing and the feedback that I’ve gotten has been consistently positive.”
One of the first challenges the new supervisor faced was how to unite a Republican town board and administration that had been split into opposing camps during the 2017 election process.
“I did not come in and make a lot of changes, which I could have done,” Wehrheim said. “I came in, kept the same people here, and made them understand what my initiatives were and how I operate.”
One of his pledges had been to create town government for Smithtown that was more transparent to its residents. Wehrheim appointed Nicole Garguilo as the town’s first spokeswoman within days of his swearing-in and has ensured live streaming of town board meetings. A mobile phone app was launched in August 2018 to keep residents up to the minute with the latest public safety notices, but a complex town meeting agenda
he once criticized as “75 items, labeled A to ZZ, and nobody understands that” he admits has changed little.
“People have to remember we inherited a government that had zero transparency,” Wehrheim said. “Not many people outside it, and sometimes not even town council people, would know what was happening. We couldn’t fix it immediately.”
For 2019, the supervisor is focused on restructuring the town’s website and said an updated town agenda was available Jan. 24, with more to come in once the website revisions are made.
Wehrheim made promises during the 2017 elections to revive “long dormant downtown
revitalization” projects including sewers for Kings Park and to bring apartments to Smithtown. He said the town’s Nov. 30, 2018, report found there have been 2.1 million square feet of commercial development that’s begun or is permitted and ready to begin construction. The supervisor has worked with Suffolk County to complete an engineering study for sewering downtown Kings Park, which has been stymied by the state Legislature’s unwillingness to vote on a home rule bill that would isolate a necessary piece of land needed to construct a pump station.
“People have to remember we inherited a government that had zero transparency.”
— Ed Wehrheim
He said received assurances from state Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-East Northport) and Assemblyman Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) will be taking up the legislation, hopefully for a vote shortly.
Wehrheim had led the town in approving construction of Lofts at Maple & Main, which has all approvals needed to bring a mixed-used building containing 9,500 square feet of retail space and 72 apartments to Smithtown’s Main Street. He hopes this will help address “brain drain” on Long Island and be a move toward creating a walkable downtown environment.
In St. James, the town has more than $8 million set aside for revitalization with sewers, water mains and improved streetscaping. He’s also brokered a promise with Gyrodyne LLC to expand the sewer treatment plant for proposed Flowerfield property development to accommodate the Lake Avenue business district.
Large-scale commercial developments approved under Wehrheim’s tenure include CarMax taking over the Smithtown Concrete Plant on Route 25 and Tesla renovating the former 6th Avenue Electronics on Route 247 in Nesconset.
One thing Smithtown’s supervisor has yet to get around to is creating the business advisory council. Wehrheim has promised interviews for an executive board are underway as of January.
“There’s always room for improvement, there’s not a question about that,” he said. “At this particular time, it’s going well, and I’m sure down the road we will improve more.”